Gossip Girl Retrospective: XOXO

Ah, Gossip Girl, the show I love to hate.

During the six years of the show, I have quit watching it at least four times in disgust.

Seriously, Gossip Girl is one of the silliest, most idiotic, badly written television shows out there. I am embarrassed that I have seen every. single. episode. I am pathetic. It’s a terrible show. No, seriously. It’s really bad. I used to blog about the show, and I wanted to list those blogs here, but sadly they were mostly eaten in The Great Mystery of the Disappearing Posts, in which random posts that I had imported with wordpress plugins from my old site were one day… poof! So, I shall summarize what most of them said, which was a variation on, “Jesus Christ, this show is so FAKE. Why am I watching it?” and “Chuck Bass is awesome.”

So, I’d like to spend a little time right now talking about two things. A-What I thought made Gossip Girl impossible to actually stop watching and B-Why Gossip Girl was really a terrible show. I may sound conflicted here, but I’m really not. I would gleefully watch another six seasons of this drivel. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be aware that it was drivel while I was watching it.

All right. Why is this show addictive?

One word: The trickster.

I’ve pointed out (or did I just think this in my head) that Gossip Girl has things in common with truly superior words like Les Liaisons dangereuses and Heathers. (Someone is fainting because I just equated 18th century literature with a Christian Slater movie.) But there’s something that all movies about powerful people manipulating each other have in common, and that thing is the trickster character.

The trickster character is a character who is smooth, untouchable, and emotionally manipulative. This person knows more than everyone else around him or her, knows everyone’s secrets, and is willing to use those secrets to further his or her own aims.

The trickster character is awesome. Sometimes it’s female, like Blair or Heather Chandler or Glenn Close (her real name is French and it starts with an M, but I don’t remember it.) This female character might be a mean girl, a villain. But maybe she’s also the heroine, using her trickster powers for good. Veronica Mars, anyone? Sometimes it’s male, like Chuck Bass or Jason Dean or Valmont. Or even Dan Humphrey occasionally in this last season. I liked that character for exactly one episode. It was the Thanksgiving episode. He was totally rocking his trickster-ness. This character can be villainous or heroic as well.

And this character type isn’t limited to stories about people of upper social classes behaving like assholes, either. This character also appears rather often in detective stories. This is Sherlock Holmes. Columbo. Patrick Jane from The Mentalist.

This character is the bad guy in comic books. He’s the Joker or Lex Luthor, the bad guy who knows the good guy better than he knows himself.

This character has its roots in the sacred, just as all stories that truly grab us do, because story originated with religion, and when it is done right, I believe it still makes us feel connected to the universe just as the gods did for those ancient people. The trickster is Loki. He is Coyote, from Native American myths. He is Pan. He is Dionysus. He is the snake in the Garden of Eden. Occasionally, he’s even Jesus, like when Jesus is playing those tongue sparing games with the Pharisees, or when he makes up those twisty little parables.

The trickster is epic.

And Gossip Girl is built on trickster characters and trickster plots. That’s why it’s impossible to stop watching. Because the trickster, whether good or bad, is engrossing. I think, deep down, we all want to be that person who’s smart enough to know how to pull all the right strings, to predict every move, and to take down our enemies. And–we definitely all fear that someone could do that to us. So, it’s primal and heady. It’s deep DNA stuff, wired into us as humans from years and years of storytelling.

Trickster! croaks our ancestral memory.

And yet, Gossip Girl is still a really, really terrible show. And here’s why.

It has no moral center.

Now, I’m not saying that the show should have advocated a traditional kind of morality. In fact, part of what made it great was the fact that it refused to make any kind of comment on whether or not it was bad that kids were drinking and having sex. It didn’t after-school-special it at all.

On the other hand, there were never any lasting consequences. No one changed. The Serena in the first episode is the same Serena in the last episode.

We could make an argument that Dan and Chuck changed, but… then again, not really. (I mean, I don’t know that that whole epilogue thing was all about. Anyone who thinks the reason that anyone watched this show was because of Dan and Serena is an idiot. No one cared about Dan and Serena. It was Blair, dammit, Blair. Blair was interesting. Serena was just… there. Being blonde.)

What I mean is, people did terrible things to each other all the time, and they were always trying to hurt one another. One person had some grudge against someone else one minute, and then the next minute, it was all over and they were friends. And then they’d fight again, but it never really mattered.

The show equated talking about someone being their back with people committing like actual crimes. Sometimes people went to jail, but they never stayed there long. Grownups could have sex with minors, and it was no big deal. There were at least two teachers doing this, and Nate was with that Sage chick this season.

And I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. Like, I don’t care if the moral center of the show is that everyone’s just a bitch, so roll with it. That would be fine.

But the problem is that in the show, nothing’s actually bad, but then they try to pretend like things are bad. Like Bart Bass is suddenly really evil? Why? Because he had people killed? Is that a thing we aren’t supposed to do now? I don’t know what the rules are.

On a petty level, it becomes annoying because no one ever changes their minds about things or learns any lessons. Like Dan helped Georgina raise a baby for months and months. But after he found out he wasn’t actually the dad, he had no desire to see the baby ever again. Chuck fell madly in love with this girl in Europe this one time, and he brought her back to New York and was all, “You’re awesome.” And then… yeah.

I mean, okay it’s a soap. I get it’s a soap.

But there is a reason people think that soap operas are not good.

This is why. Because there are no consequences. Real people have experiences and those experiences change them. Real people pay real prices for those choices. No one has any real problems in Gossip Girl.

There’s one other way that Gossip Girl could have been good. It could have understood what it was doing and been making a commentary on the lifestyle it was portraying. Like Dan references Fitzgerald a lot. But good ol’ F. Scott was ripping the world he was writing about to shreds. If Gossip Girl was doing what Dan’s writing was supposedly doing, then it would have the opportunity to be very meta and very cool and very biting.

But. Please. That show was just silly.

I do love Chuck Bass.

Forever and always.

And I shall never forget the way he looked when he was on top of that building, refusing to tell Blair he loved her, being a very lovable jerk. Oh! That was awesome.

(And it was ruined several episodes later when the status quo was reset and everything went back to way it had been. The experience didn’t have a bit of an effect on him.)

Ah, well. You know I loved it. XOXO.